A fresh new voice
By Kimberly Richardson
Danzy Senna, author of the book Caucasia, pulls out all the stops in her novel Symptomatic. Not only is this is a psychological thriller, but it also addresses racial concerns that are woven well into the tale. The narrator of the story is a young biracial woman from California who moves to NYC for a job. The story begins with her moving in with her boyfriend, Andrew, to escape her room in a dilapidated boarding house. Upon meeting his friends at a party one night, she discovers that they are racist as they make fun of maintenance people from their prep school and African-Americans they see on TV. This encounter is enough to cause her to move out of Andrew’s place into an abandoned apartment that she discovers through a co-worker named Greta Hicks, who is also biracial. However, Greta is not all that she appears to be, and in the shocking end the reader learns just how far some people will go in order to deny who and what they truly are.
Through the eyes of the narrator, the reader is subjected to not only the slow downward spiral of events regarding her new apartment, but also her life as a biracial woman and the precarious path she walks with a foot in both the black and white world. At times the narrator appears to be white while other times she appears to be black. She is a chameleon of sorts until the reader learns that not even she knows who she is. Senna spends quite a bit of time explaining the background of the narrator and why she is such a distant person who finds it impossible to love anyone or be loved. Her family was eccentric and seemed to love on a random basis, while she floated along the currents like a piece of driftwood. When Greta comes along in her life, a fellow biracial person with a supposedly like mind, the narrator makes a halfhearted attempt to befriend the lonely, older woman, only to retreat quickly when Greta begins to show signs that all is not well in her own life.
This was my first time reading Senna, and I thoroughly enjoyed the slim novel. It is a good thing when a writer can grab my attention and make me flip through pages at a rapid pace. As I read this novel it seemed as though I was with the narrator watching the events unfold before her. After reading the first chapter, I immediately checked the Internet to find out more about Ms. Senna, hoping to learn as much as I could from one writer to another. What I discovered was that others who have read her work feel as I do; her voice is fresh, new, and quite unique given her background and the topics she writes about. My admiration for Senna goes beyond literary; to talk of racial matters without browbeating it into the ground is a welcomed breath of fresh air. Senna has the charm to reveal such a world without overdoing it, and for that I tip my hat to her in sincere admiration.